By Clark Judge, CBS Sports Senior NFL Columnist

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS Sports) — If you’re penciling in the 49ers for Super Bowl XLVIII, hold that thought. History and a tough NFC West might hold San Francisco back.

The 49ers are young, talented and a trendy pick to return to next year’s Super Bowl — except there are a couple of things working against them, and they’re significant enough to keep them from reaching the Super Bowl again or, worse, the playoffs.

First, there’s the history of Super Bowl losers. It’s not good. In fact, it’s downright ugly. The last team to return to the Super Bowl after losing it the year before was the 1993 Buffalo Bills.

But there’s something else conspiring against the 49ers, and it’s the division in which they play. In one season, the NFC West went from a 99-pound weakling to one of the league’s heavyweights, with two of its clubs among the NFC’s last four playoff teams. One was San Francisco. The other was Seattle. And before you pencil in the 49ers for a division three-peat, consider this: By the end of the regular season, it was Seattle, not San Francisco, that was best in the NFC West.

READ MORE analysis on the Niners’ future from CBS Sports…

(Copyright 2013 CBS San Francisco. All rights reserved.)


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